Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa
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The chief executives of Ireland, Scotland and Canada have reacted encouragingly to reports that Zimbabwe could take part in the 2009-10 Intercontinental Cup.
Although the tournament is meant for leading Associates, the ICC has approached Zimbabwe Cricket with a proposal it enters a team as part of its schedule to regain Test status. The four-day first-class matches would give the young and inexperienced Zimbabwe side a chance to take on teams such as Ireland, Kenya, Netherlands and Scotland, as well as newcomers Afghanistan.
"Playing against Zimbabwe is precisely where Ireland would wish to be," Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland's chief executive, told Cricinfo. "Having just completed the 'Associate Treble' of global titles in all three of the game's formats in the last nine months, we now need to benchmark our progress against teams above us, in all three formats of the game. Bearing in mind we are unbeaten in four-day cricket since 2004 and have won the last three Intercontinental Cups, it is high time that we are given the opportunity to test ourselves against those ranked above us in the Test world."
That view was endorsed by Roddy Smith, Cricket Scotland's chief executive. "I think the move … has to be a positive. It will give the Associates a chance to play a Full Member whilst giving Zimbabwe competitive cricket. It will also give an ideal opportunity over all the games to see the relative strengths of the Associates against them."
Ben Sennik, chief executive of Cricket Canada, was also in agreement. "It can only help to develop the playing standard of the leading Associate countries to have fixtures against countries such as Zimbabwe," he said. "As you probably know, we played them in a 20/20 as recently as last October in Toronto, with one of the games ending in a tie.
"Exposure to higher quality opposition is critical for the development of Associates cricket, and I would even go so far as to suggest that the inclusion of the A teams from Test nations in this type of competition could also prove beneficial."
Deutrom, who has made no secret of his wish to see Ireland play Test cricket, said that this could prove to be a way towards that happening. We are all aware that there is no established pathway to Test Cricket for Associate Countries, and ascension to the Full Member ranks by (for example) Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh appears to have happened rather haphazardly. For me, having top Associates playing the bottom-ranked Test teams is pure common sense and the first step in breaching the glass ceiling separating the Full Member and Associate World."
But he also pointed out there were serious problems awaiting Zimbabwe if results went against them. "If any team, not just Ireland, was to beat Zimbabwe, then it would be very difficult to re-promote Zimbabwe to the Test ranks, and it would create the problem of what to do with those countries that had done so.
"Do the Full Members accept that Zimbabwe stays down until it starts to win a few matches, or does it elevate Zimbabwe's vanquishers to Test status if they have dominated over a sufficiently-long period which, arguably, Ireland has done anyway by winning the last three Intercontinental Cups."